Examining the Linkages Between School Drop Out and Pregnancy in West Nile, Uganda

Article Date

29 July 2014

Article Author

Erin Kelly

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Efforts to improve girls’ access to education around the world have resulted in significant gains for the world’s girls. In Uganda, the gender gap in primary school enrollment between girls and boys has completely closed.

Yet for every 10 boys enrolled in secondary school in Uganda, only eight girls are enrolled, signaling to researchers that there are still barriers that are preventing girls from continuing their education.

In the West Nile sub-region, where decades of conflict and displacement have stunted economic growth and infrastructural development, the situation is even more dire, showing that for every 10 boys enrolled in secondary school, only five girls are enrolled. And while nearly 40 percent of boys in the sub-region complete secondary education or higher, fewer than 11 percent of girls can claim the same.

Secondary school typically begins at the same time as the onset of adolescence, a time when girls become more vulnerable to sexual coercion, violence, pregnancy and forced marriage. To better understand the correlation between drop out and pregnancy and to determine if the same inequitable gender attitudes lead girls to get pregnant and drop out of school early, ICRW teamed up with the Forum for African Women Educationalists Uganda (FAWEU) to collect data in two regions of Uganda: Arua and Adjumani.

ICRW and FAWEU found that a large proportion of adolescent girls have dropped out of school prematurely in two West Nile districts. The overwhelming majority of girls surveyed in Arua and Adjumani lived in poverty and only 22 percent reported that their mother had gone on to secondary school. One in four girls were orphans, having lost at least one parent.

Overall, ICRW and FAWEU found that nearly one in every three girls surveyed had dropped out of school, with the main reason girls giving for dropping out being financial, and the second most common reason being pregnancy. Inequitable gender beliefs, including beliefs that women and girls sometimes deserve to experience gender-based violence or that boys deserve more education than girls, led to a higher rate of girls dropping out and becoming pregnant.While it’s clear that pregnancy and poverty are leading causes of dropout for girls in these two districts, the vast majority of girls who had dropped out early stated that they would like to return to school, if given the opportunity.

To help girls stay in – or return to – school, and to ensure they have the opportunity to thrive, we know we must engage them in their schools, homes and communities.

ICRW and FAWEU’s recommendations for empowering girls include the following:

  • Ensure girls are starting school at the appropriate age and maintaining grade-for-age progression;
  • Provide girls and boys with comprehensive knowledge on sexuality and sexual health;
  • Ensure school environment is safe and free from fear of violence;
  • Remove the burden of household chores on girls;
  • Provide livelihood and incentive opportunity to help offset financial burden of school;
  • Engage opinion and cultural leaders in the community to help raise awareness about the importance of gender-equitable beliefs;
  • Ensure secondary education is free and that any fees are subsidized;
  • Provide guidelines and trainings to support “girl-friendly” school environments, which may include menstrual hygiene management and gender-equitable treatment; and
  • Support adolescent girls who are returning to school after dropping out as a result of pregnancy.

To read the full report, presented in Uganda, click here.